Waiting for 9.1

More than a thousand SAS users and around 200 SAS employees attended regional SAS conferences this fall, where much of the talk was about the forthcoming release 9.1 (also called 9.01). Officially, SAS hopes to have a release ready at the end of December, but independent experts are guessing we might not see it before April. As with other releases in recent years, SAS 9.1 may be shipped only to customers who specifically request it.

SAS 9 is engineered around an idea SAS calls the intelligence value chain. SAS is looking to increase the value of its software offerings by delivering results in forms that can be used more directly by the business managers and knowledge workers who ultimately use the information. This means there will be relatively few new tools for programmers in SAS 9.1, but more interactive applications, improved user interfaces, and more network integration features than ever.

Much of the attention to date has been placed on the impressive multithreading performance pf SAS 9.1, but that is not the only change programmers can expect. A few examples of other enhancements in SAS 9.1 include improved RTF and tagset support in ODS, a new PROPCASE function to convert text to proper case (title case), IFN and IFC functions that allow conditional logic to be used in expressions (similar to the IF function in Excel), and improved support for hash tables in the data step.

Taking an about-face from the MultiVendor Architecture (MVA) emphasis of SAS development in the 1990s, SAS is looking to cut costs by reducing the number of platforms it develops for. On the IBM mainframe, SAS 9.1 is said to run only on OS/390 (including MVS and z/OS). For desktop computers, SAS 9.1 requires a more recent version of Microsoft Windows than NT, 98, or ME. SAS is focusing its Unix development on the 64-bit versions of Solaris, AIX, and HP-UX. The one area where SAS is expanding its platform support is with its official support for SuSE Linux in addition to Red Hat Linux. Looking past 9.1, the decline in VMS Alpha and HP-UX might soon lead SAS to cut off development for those platforms.

After releasing 9.1, SAS plans to begin work on 9.2, but that development cycle will probably include only a small fraction of the possible enhancements that have been discussed. With its immediate emphasis on performance, integration, and networking, SAS has to be selective about what other enhancements it takes on. For example, the long-term plan calls for the addition of more object-oriented features, but we may see only a hint of that in SAS over the next five years.

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RICK ASTER

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